Similar to the way the Holy Spirit dwells within believers in Jesus Christ, God’s glory was symbolic of his presence over the ark of the Testimony that was kept in the tabernacle, and afterward, the temple of God. The glory of God was not always visible and was intentionally concealed behind a curtain that separated the Holy of Holies from the rest of God’s temple. After the renewal of his covenant with the Israelites, Moses asked God to show him his glory (Exodus 33:18). God responded, “And he said, I will make all my goodness pass before thee, and I will proclaim the name of the LORD before thee…And the LORD said, Behold, there is a place by me, and thou shalt stand upon a rock: and it shall come to pass, while my glory passeth by, that I will put thee in a clift of the rock, and will cover thee with my hand while I pass by” (Exodus 33:19, 21-22).
The glory of God was so magnificent that it could not be viewed by just anyone. One of the effects of God’s glory filling his temple was the sanctification or setting apart of the temple for the work of God (6942). Because God’s temple was holy and was intended for the express purpose of providing a sanctuary for him, God’s glory entered into the temple at its dedication and remained there until the temple was destroyed. Unaware of God’s presence, the priests defiled the temple of God by erecting a statue of Asherah, the Canaanite goddess of fertility, at the gate of the altar (Ezekiel 8:5) and made sacrifices to her, supposing they wouldn’t be discovered (Ezekiel 8:12). At the time of Jerusalem’s destruction, Ezekiel was shown that the glory of the God of Israel was gone up from the cherub where it usually remained. It says in Ezekiel 10:4, “Then the glory of the LORD went up from the cherub and stood over the threshold of the house: and the house was filled with the cloud, and the court was full of the brightness of the LORD’s glory.”
What Ezekiel saw was not visible to anyone but him. If the people of Jerusalem had been aware of God’s presence, they would most likely have acted differently. The Apostle Paul said believers were the temple of God and should not defile themselves by having intimate relationships with unbelievers (2 Corinthians 6:12-14), and yet, believers commit adultery and other such sins like everyone else. God’s glory’s departure symbolized the breaking of the covenant between God and his people. Although he did not end his relationship with the Israelites, God’s glory, and therefore God himself, did not dwell with his people from that point forward.